Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Cuban Democracy?

Cuba is almost invariably portrayed as a totalitarian regime, a veritable "gulag" guided and controlled by one man: Fidel Castro. However, this position cannot be sustained once the reality of Cuba is assessed on its own merits. Extensive democratic popular participation in decision-making is at the centre of the Cuban model of governance.

This is the opening paragraph of the article: Five reasons why the people rule. I agree that Cuba is a totalitarian regime:
Totalitarianism is a term employed by political scientists, especially those in the field of comparative politics, to describe modern regimes in which the state regulates nearly every aspect of public and private behavior. (Totalitarian Regime)
And by this we can see that not all aspects of life are controlled to be a totalitarian regime. Many regimes allow certain sectors to flourish even if they don't have a love for it. But I can agree with it not being a Gulag, at least in a true Gulag major numbers of citizens are killed. And thus even our base in Cuba is not a Gulag. And now to go through the points:
1. The system responds to the people’s demands
First, Cubans are not preoccupied with a mere mechanical implementation of a rigid, unchanging model. Contrary to dominant misconceptions, the Cuban political system is not a static entity. Cubans are involved in an intense learning process whose hallmark has been experimentation and willingness to correct mistakes and missteps by periodic renovation of their democratic project. Thus, the system responds to popular demands for adjustment.

I don't see that it responds to their needs. Obviously it does not respond to some people's demands as witnessed in the boat people. Are the Cubans in a learning process or a brainwashing scheme?
2. The Communist Party takes no part
Second, the function of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) is significantly circumscribed, as it does not operate as an electoral party. It is proscribed by law from playing any role in the nomination of candidates.

But there is no real opposition party so this is a vacuous phrase. But what about other parties...
Next to the Communist Party of Cuba, various political parties are illegally active in the country. The most important of these are the Christian Democratic Party of Cuba, the Cuban Socialist Democratic Current, the Democratic Social-Revolutionary Party of Cuba, the Democratic Solidarity Party, the Liberal Party of Cuba and the Social Democratic Co-ordination of Cuba.

And none of those parties sound like right wing groups. Now back to the article:
The elections at the municipal level are competitive and the casting of ballots is secret.

Sounds good, but as a centralized government what decisions are made at the local level? And from Wiki:
Municipal elections are officially non-partisan, but as with National Assembly elections, critics maintain that no candidate can express overt opposition to the Castro government or to the communist system.

Back to the article:
At the provincial and national levels, candidacy commissions select and sift through thousands of people. The commissions are comprised of representatives from the various mass and grassroots organizations and are presided over by workers’ representatives chosen by the unions. The PCC is prohibited from participation in the work of the commissions.

Thus, it is the norm for ordinary working people to be both nominated and elected. The commissions’ recommendations are then presented to the municipal assemblies for final approval.

But if all members of the candidacy commissions are selected as members of the PCC then it does not matter if prohibited or not. Many other communist regimes also use a circular power of control to not get feedback but reinforce group-think. Back to Wiki:
Candidates for the National Assembly are chosen by Candidacy Commissions chaired by local trade union officials and composed of elected representatives of "mass organisations" representing workers, youth, women, students and farmers. The Candidacy Commissions produce slates of recommended candidates for each electoral district. The final list of candidates, one for each district, is drawn up by the National Candidacy Commission, taking into account criteria such as candidates’ popularity, merit, patriotism, ethical values and “revolutionary history.”

So that sounds great, instead of the people deciding the best candidate, the commission gets to decide who is good enough to be elected. Wiki:
Cuba justifies the existence of only one political party by arguing that the PCC “is not a political party in the traditional sense… it is not an electoral party; it does not decide on the formation or composition of the government. It is not only forbidden to nominate candidates but also to be involved in any other stage of the electoral process… The CPC’s role is one of guidance, supervision and of guarantor of participatory democracy.”

And let us not forget to perpetuate the communist party ideology through groupthink and brainwashing. I can not imagine that people that talk about participatory democracy would consider Cuba an ideal candidate. Wiki:
Candidates for the National Assembly are chosen by Candidacy Commissions chaired by local trade union officials and composed of elected representatives of "mass organisations" representing workers, youth, women, students and farmers. The Candidacy Commissions produce slates of recommended candidates for each electoral district. The final list of candidates, one for each district, is drawn up by the National Candidacy Commission, taking into account criteria such as candidates’ popularity, merit, patriotism, ethical values and “revolutionary history.”[2].

Right of legislative proposalsArticle #88(h) of the| Cuban constitution, adopted in1976, provides for citizen proposals of law, prerequisite that the proposal be made by at least 10 000 citizens who are eligible to vote. In 2002 supporters of a movement known as theVarela Projectsubmitted a citizen proposal of law with 11,000 signatures calling for a national referendum on political and economic reforms.The Cuban National Assembly Constitution and Legal Affairs Committee tabled the Varela Project citizens' initative and responded with a counter initative, the petition for which collected 8.1 million signatures, to request that Cuba's National Assembly amend the constitution to state "Socialism and the revolutionary political and social system...are irrevocable; and Cuba will never again return to capitalism."[4]The National Assembly vote was preceded by a massive march.[5]Critics argue that the alleged signatures of 99.5 percent of Cuba's eligible voters were collected by Castro's neighborhood watch committees, whose evaluations of each citizen's political behavior can make or break people's lives in a country where the government controls virtually all jobs.[6]

Castro continued “Those who want to see people’s democracy let them come here and see this. We can speak to America and the world because we speak in names of a whole nation.” Castro has also been critical of liberal democracies, describing them as a “Pretense of democracy”.[7]

"Candidates for provincial and national office must be approved in advance by mass organizations controlled by the government. In practice a small group of leaders, under the direction of the president, selected the members of the highest policy-making bodies of the CP, the Politburo, and the Central Committee."

While the law allows citizens not to vote, CDRs often pressured neighborhood residents to cast ballots. According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights, the government blacklisted those who did not vote. Although not a formal requirement, in practice CP membership was a prerequisite for high-level official positions and professional advancement."

When the National Assembly, which meets twice-yearly, is not in session the 31-member Council of State wields legislative power. The Council of Ministers, through its 9-member executive committee, exercises executive and administrative power. Although the Constitution provides for independent judiciary, it explicitly subordinates it to the National Assembly and to the Council of State. Involvement in decision-making and implementation through non-political actors has been institutionalised through national organisations, linked to the Communist Party, representing farmers, youth groups, students, women, industrial workers, etc."

"The nomination of candidates for election to the Municipal Assemblies is done by nominating assemblies, in which all voters are entitled to propose candidates. In practice, however, these district assemblies are usually organized by the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution or the Communist Party, which makes the selection of an opponent of the regime most unlikely."

In 2002 former U.S. PresidentJimmy Carterspoke in Havana with support fromHuman Rights Watchand representing theCarter Center. Whilst calling for democratic change, Carter also stressed that he was not using a U.S. definition of “democracy.” he explained that “the term is embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Cuba signed in 1948. It is based on some simple premises: all citizens are born with the right to choose their own leaders, to define their own destiny, to speak freely, to organize political parties, trade unions and non-governmental groups, and to have fair and open trials.”

Critics argue that whatever the merits of the system for electing the National Assembly, that body is itself a facade for the reality of PCC rule in Cuba. The Assembly meets only twice a year for a few days. The 31-member Council of State, in theory elected by the Assembly but in practice appointed by the PCC, wields effective state power, and the PCCPolitburo, as in all communists states, is the ultimate political authority. Although the Assembly has eight standing committees, they do not exercise any effective authority over legislation. During its biannual plenums, the Assembly plays a passive role as audience for various government speakers. Once the Council of State's legislative proposals have been presented, they are summarily ratified by unanimous or near unanimous vote of the Assembly.[9]"Local elections candidates are nominated in open meetings run by the CDR (Committees to Defend the Revolution) that are closely linked to police and security forces. They report and sanction dissent. Prison terms of 4 years threaten those that openly oppose the regime in that public meeting filled withinformants. People not supporting can be threatened with losing their home and jobs."

3. The delegates are answerable to their constituents

Third, a rare closeness exists between the elected municipal delegates and the people they serve. Each delegate must live in the electoral district (usually comprising a maximum of two thousand people).

Again as a centralized government, does this translate into a better government of all?
4. Consensus and unity rather than contest and division is the basis of the system
Fourth, the Cuban system eschews the adversarial approach that dominates the western political processes. In the work and meetings of the provincial assemblies and the National Assembly, the goal of achieving unity and consensus is central.

Yes, and most of the most democratic states in my opinion (Great Britain/Canada) have the most heated debates anywhere. No one is expected to be happy, only satisfaction that there was a debate and in the end to live by it. This more looks like groupthink and programming than having a debate on the direction of their country.
The National Assembly has ten permanent commissions. At the end of 2002, for example, it met from December 16th to 20th to discuss more than forty topics, including the fishing industry, the environment, the restructuring of the sugar sector, the production of medicine and links between Cuba and the European Union, particularly Cuba’s decision to apply to join the Cotonou Agreement, an economic accord between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific states.

So am I suppose to believe that unity and consensus building only takes 4 days on 40 topics?

5. Civil society is engaged in the process
These organizations have very specific functions and responsibilities. In addition to the Communist Party, the Young Communist League and the Confederation of Cuban Workers, there are the Cuban Federation of Women, the Committees to Defend the Revolution, the National Association of Small Farmers and the Federation of University Students...
[From earlier in text.]
National Assembly are persons from every sphere of Cuban society: the arts, sports, science, religion etc.

But what about those organizations that are not approved?
Mass organizations, unlike the Communist Party, are granted through Article 88 (c) of the Constitution the right to propose legislation in the areas that fall under their jurisdiction.

But not the outlawed ones.

Now this is probably long enough and too many quotes, so next time a look at some more interesting aspects of Cuba's politics.
Five reasons why the people rule
Contonou Agreement
Elections in Cuba
Allegations of tourist apartheid in Cuba

List of countries by life expectancy
Another Bush Brings Hell to Haiti
Jean-Claude Duvalier
Toussaint L'Ouverture


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